“What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows?” (Prov. 31:2).
Not much has changed in three millennia. Heh.
But then his mother warns him saying, ”Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings” (Prov. 31:3).
There are several lines of fruitful thought here. First, don’t miss the fact that a woman is warning her son about other women. Second, the warning is specifically about a man giving his strength to women. And the concluding thought is related. As is often the case with Proverbs, the second line is an elaboration of the first. By giving his strength to women, Lemuel puts his kingdom in jeopardy.
Looking back in Proverbs, we see at least one direct application of this when Solomon warns his sons about the forbidden woman:
“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol… Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner…” (Prov. 5:1-10)
Surely Solomon has many things in mind here by “strength” — a man’s wealth, his energy, his labors — everything he has worked hard for will be sucked away by the black hole of the forbidden woman. Specifically, all of his labors will go to the house of a foreigner. Again, in the case of a king, this means the end of the kingdom. A kingdom’s security depends directly on the security of the king.
But this can happen in various ways, some obvious and explicit, some more subtle and implicit. Samson is a great and obvious example. He literally gave a woman the secret of his physical strength and thereby lost it all. Solomon is another example. He intermarried with many foreign wives and took many concubines, presumably for political gain and expediency. This was the way of the nations around Israel — daughters and sisters were given as wives to kings as demonstrations of allegiance and political alliance. There were likely some political consequences of this folly during Solomon’s reign but the greatest consequence was this:
“For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after others gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father… Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods” (1 Kgs. 11:4, 7-8).
But all of this can still seem too abstract. Solomon’s heart was turned away from the Lord his God by his foreign wives, and this results in him spending enormous time, energy, money, man-labor on worthless and evil things. Remember the energy and strength and resources needed to build the temple of God. Now multiply that times 700 for worthless projects. But his strength was actually already being given away in the process of getting married to all of these women. Even assuming these marriages were a matter of quick transactions with little formality (or dignity), Solomon is already giving his strength away in hours, attention, care for something that God had prohibited. “You shall not enter into marriage with them…” (1 Kgs. 11:2) and “[the king] shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away…” (Dt. 17:17).
But this is the point: The glory of men is their strength. When Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be strong, he admonishes them to “act like men” (1 Cor. 16:13). This strength means sacrificial obedience to God. It means obeying God all the way up to and including death. This is the pattern that Jesus, the perfect man, gave to us in His life and death. This glory of masculine strength is to be used for the good and protection of women, but this glory is not to be given away to women. This is the downfall of homes, churches, kingdoms, and civilizations.
And here’s where I will put my foot in the cow pie of modern sensibilities and track it through the house. Many Christian men give their strength to Christian women. Christian men give their strength away to their wives. Christian men give their strength to elders’ wives, deacons’ wives, city council women, savvy business women. And here I’m not talking about any kind of overt sexual sin. I’m not talking about the youth pastor running off with one of the secretaries. I’m not talking about committing adultery and affairs and the inevitable sexual abuse that follows those cultures — although that is one of the consequences that often comes with this whole package. I’m talking about what’s happening three miles up that river, long before any inkling of sexual sin enters the mind. And it often happens in the name of sacrifice. A man thinks he’s being manly when he defers to a Christian woman. And the Christian woman, having heard sermons about this sort of thing over the years, believes that the appropriate thing for the godly man to do is defer to her on this Sunday School question. He should sacrifice what he wants for her, put her interests ahead his own — right? Isn’t that what Paul says somewhere?
Right, Paul does say that somewhere, but this is also what Eve thought in a garden about six thousand years ago, and Adam chose the wrong sacrifice. Adam should have refused his wife’s offer and walked her straight to the Lord and confessed their disobedience and offered to die in her place. That was the sacrifice he should have embraced — sacrificial obedience. And so, yes, there will be many opportunities for men to defer to women in day to day matters, as a matter of courtesy and kindness, but a man must also be fully aware of the deep temptation in his soul to give his strength away to her. There’s a cowardly, lazy, and abdicating bum in the soul of every man that really would love to play all day and have all the meals made, magically appearing on the table every several hours. And many women see this tendency in men and think that what their men need is a little mothering — and in marriage this can include the woman providing sex at various intervals to keep her man docile. But that man has given his strength away and is in the process of forfeiting his kingdom. This is a horse-trading scam that ends in the shame and misery of everyone involved.
In other words, men are required by God to take responsibility for whatever situation they find themselves in. And they are required to use the physical, mental, emotional, financial strength God has given them to lead those around them to safety and blessing. This means preeminently leading in and towards wholehearted obedience to God. And this must not include any deference to preferences that would lead in any other direction. Men are finite, and this means there are only so many hours in the day, so much brain power, so much strength — this is never an excuse for disobedience, but it is a very legitimate reason for wise allocation of resources: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Lk. 14:31) So what are you using your strength for? How are you spending your minutes, your hours, your energy, your money? Are you using your strength sacrificially in obedience to God for the good others?
Many men cultivate countermeasures to their abdication and weakness. A man who does not rule his own house, tries to make up for the emasculated feeling in his soul and maybe he spends his weekends watching men beat each other up on UFC or he plays at being brave by watching horror movies or football games. Or maybe he goes hunting or plays shoot ’em up video games or listens to thrasher metal music or engages in theological wrangling on the internet until 3am — he cultivates a sort of masculine catharsis where he can feel manly for a few hours or a few days before going back to work where he gives his strength to women (or effeminate men), before going back home where he gives his strength to his wife and kids, before going back to church where committees of mothering women are the puppet masters behind the stage, pulling the strings on the men. But of course men who allow for this are being effeminate. They are not actually being strong for the good of their families, churches, and communities. They are no better than other drug abusers and porn users who take pills and hits to cope with that deep pit of failure in their gut.
Part of the strength that God requires of men is the strength of repentance and course corrections. When men wake up and realize they have been sleeping on the job, when they have allowed themselves to become preoccupied with worthless things, things that don’t matter, things that will fade away in the end, they must repent. They must take responsibility for the situation they have allowed to develop, that they have created by their abdication, and they must confess their sin, seek forgiveness, and begin to give their strength to what matters, to what will last in obedience to God. Of course, the reason why hunting and sports and theological sparring can be good for men is because those are great ways to train men to use their strength with discipline and thoughtfulness. To the extent that men cultivate their strength by these methods, you’ll find no objections from me. My only caution is the tendency that men have to use these as substitutes for real masculine leadership where there is actual skin in the game, where it might actually hurt. But if one is practice and training for the other, then go, fight, and win.
Every great leader has failed in many ways (except Jesus), and their greatness does not come from their perfection but rather from their determination to get up and try again, to keep going and not give up. That might sound like some kind Gatorade or Nike commercial, but this is no humanistic mantra. Repent and believe again. The gospel is still for you. There really is glory on the other side of every obedient sacrifice. But men like to take falls, we do the math and choose the smaller sacrifice, what seems like the easier sacrifice, but in fact, God requires men to choose the obedient sacrifice, not the convenient one. Often a godly woman, a mother like King Lemuel’s will give good and wise counsel and a good man will take it, but a man must still choose for himself. They will be his choices, his decisions, and he will stand before God one day and give an answer for how he has used his strength.
Do not give your strength to women. Use your strength, in obedience to God, for their good.